By latching on to the birther movement, Donald Trump has accomplished more than just giving his possible presidential campaign a rocket-powered boost in publicity. He has also inadvertently revealed the Republican Party to be singularly unserious about governing the country. A party that features a large mass of voters who view questions about Obama’s origins with an uncritical eye and contempt for logic and reason is a party that can’t be trusted with the privy seal.
How many Republicans actually doubt Obama’s origins? A recent Public Policy Polling survey found 42% of likely New Hampshire primary voters believing that Barack Obama was not born in America. Another 35% aren’t sure. And a recent CNN poll found 27% of Republicans nationwide saying Obama was probably not born in America with another 14% saying he definitely was born elsewhere.
That same CNN poll showed Trump in a tie with Mike Huckabee at 19% for the Republican nominee for president. In New Hampshire, Trump beats Mitt Romney among the Tea Party 23-21, but trails the former Massachusetts governor overall by 7 points. And only 56% of Republicans want to see Trump run. This suggests a media boomlet for Trump — the result of his wildly increased visibility in playing to the birthers.
Trump will not be able to ride the fringe for very long and expect to be taken seriously by a majority of Republicans. The question is, what else does he have to offer in the way of policy proposals that would attract Republican primary voters?
His views on foreign policy would have little to recommend him to GOP voters looking for a responsible leader:
As for foreign policy, Mr. Trump said he is “only interested in Libya if we take the oil,” and that if he were President, “I would not leave Iraq and let Iran take over the oil.” He remains sharply critical of the Chinese, asserting that as President, “I would tell China that you’re either going to shape up, or I’m going to tax you at 25% for all the products you send into this country.”
It’s hard to tell sometimes whether Trump’s bombast is sincere or whether he is making provocative statements like taking Libya’s oil as a means to keep his media irons white hot. Every reporter likes a quotable subject and The Donald never disappoints in that respect.
What attracts the conservative base to Trump besides his questions about Obama’s origins is that he appears to have opened up an emotionally satisfying line of attack against the president. He is attacking the president “head on,” as Rush Limbaugh points out:
There’s a mythology that has been created about Obama that unnecessarily makes people afraid, and Trump is illustrating the way to do this, and Paul Ryan’s budget, just go right after him. You just go right after him, instead of pussyfooting around, worrying about what the independents are gonna say or worried about what the people that pay attention to politics two days a year are gonna say, just go after it.
Trump’s going “right after him” is what the conservative base believes John McCain didn’t do in the 2008 campaign. Despite running an extremely negative campaign, McCain’s failure was that he didn’t make an issue of Reverend Wright, Bill Ayers, Father Pfleger, or any of the other radical associations in Obama’s past and present. Nor did McCain refer to Obama as a “Marxist” or a “socialist” often enough. This is what the conservative base means when they want GOP candidates to “go after” Obama. And it’s what Rush Limbaugh means when he says that the GOP should forget about what independents might think and attack the president in a far more personal way than they have previously. The irony is that the harder Obama is hit, the more sympathy he garners and legitimate criticisms of his disastrous policies are given less weight.
Trump is obliging the base — with a vengeance. If he was using the truth rather than old, debunked myths about Obama’s origins — including the ridiculous story about Obama’s grandmother claiming he was born in Kenya — he might have made an impact on the race. As it is, he has given legitimacy to a bunch of right-wing extremists who are unswayed by reason, logic, or the truth that lies right in front of their noses.